Overcoming the pressure to excel

Normal, a critically acclaimed play about students left behind by streaming in schools by Faith Ng (above), will be restaged from Thursday.
Normal, a critically acclaimed play about students left behind by streaming in schools by Faith Ng (above), will be restaged from Thursday. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Playwright Faith Ng has learnt that it is okay to take a break from writing

Perhaps because little was expected of her during her school days, playwright Faith Ng puts a lot of pressure on herself to excel.

Her critically acclaimed play about students left behind by streaming in schools, Normal, will be restaged from Thursday at the Drama Centre Black Box by Checkpoint Theatre. Claire Wong directs.

Claire Chung, Audrey Teong and Lim Shi-An reprise their 2015 roles as students in a fictional Singaporean school for girls. They are joined by Julie Wee, Amanda Tee, Chio Su-Ping and Fanny Kee.

Ng is an associate artist at Checkpoint Theatre and Normal was developed through the company's mentorship scheme. It was originally written as her master's thesis at the University of East Anglia and draws on her experience of being in the Normal (Academic) stream at a local secondary school.

  • BOOK IT /NORMAL

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, Level 5 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Thursday, 8pm; Friday to April 16, 8pm (Tuesdays andFridays); 3 and 8pm (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays); 3pm (Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $45 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

Ng will not name the school in interviews. She points out that more than one school treats Normal (Academic) students as if they are second-class.

The uneven treatment left a scar that was not erased by the rave reception her first two plays received.

The drama wo(men), conceived during her undergraduate years at the National University of Singapore (NUS), made her the youngest playwright to be nominated for Best Original Script at the 2011 Life! Theatre Awards. For Better Or For Worse, a portrait of a marriage, received a similar nod in 2014.

Yet, she grappled with an internal signal that told her to keep producing more work or be seen as a failure.

In 2015, she had three plays staged: Normal, Waste with The Necessary Stage and You Are My Needle, I Am Your Thread, jointly written with her husband Alvin Lim, a theatre academic at NUS.

The last was a commission for Checkpoint Theatre's overnight showcase of performing arts, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, during the Singapore Writers Festival.

"I just had this expectation that a playwright has to write plays," says Ng, who turns 30 in June. "If I didn't have another play, am I still a playwright?"

Who put that thought in her head? "I did. Now I see that was silly," she says.

She had no new work staged last year, but will have a play out this year under The Necessary Stage's The Orange Production initiative.

The support of family and friends helped her untangle her thoughts and slow down. Ng's mother is a tutor and her father drives a taxi. She has two sisters.

Eight of her plays to date have been collected in a book, Faith Ng: Plays Volume One, published last December by Checkpoint Theatre. She says the book belongs as much to people such as Checkpoint Theatre's joint artistic directors Wong and Huzir Sulaiman. It was in Huzir's workshops at NUS that Ng found "a cool, creative space" where she could be herself.

"Even though I'm on the cover, I don't think it's my work. This is just an emblem of all the people who have built me," she says.

•Faith Ng: Plays Volume One ($29.90) is available at bookstores and via checkpoint-theatre.org/publications-merchandise

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Overcoming the pressure to excel'. Print Edition | Subscribe